Training the Utility Players in the World’s Largest Game of Baseball

One of the greatest social equalizers of the modern era was public education, or, education in general. You put people in a system that trained them to think, or taught them ways to approach problems, and you could put them to work and create jobs. 

This blog post was written by Douglas Crets, Community Manager for Microsoft BizSpark.

That old way is broken, mostly because the industrial revolution is for the most part over, and even the information age has plateaued to bring us to another level of labor and creation -- you might call this the Innovation Economy. 

Michal Hrabi (right), MIC Manger of Czech Republic innovation center MIC Bruno, stands with Ravi Rajagopal (left), Vice Chairman of Vishnu Universal Learning in Hyderabad

In an era such as this -- when new jobs and wealth are created when you use Internet and cloud server technology to link disparate peoples together and press different ideas into a conversation between people far apart -- one of the Microsoft models, the Microsoft Innovation Center (MIC) model, is quickly proving itself to be the kind of catalyst operation that can generate growth.

Dave McClure at 500 startups wrote recently about getting over the search for "black swans," and pointed to comments that likened his approach to investing as more of the Oakland A's model, rather than being an operation like the Yankees. Here is the money statement, one of the most concise metaphors for a new way of investing, something you might call utilitarian investing:

Put bluntly: we are both ambitious and we both play baseball, but YC is quite clearly the Yankees, while 500 is more like the Oakland A’s. Though i don’t profess to be Billy Beane (or Jerry Maguire), 500 is ideologically more focused on being an organization that teaches great hitting & fielding, rather than one that aims to find the best hitters & help them negotiate the best contracts. In other words, we’re happy to discover we have a few black swans, but our MISSION is to groom ugly ducklings.

This may sound like 500 is aiming for the minor leagues rather than the majors, but on the contrary, it’s more a difference in philosophy and style. We may not always swing for the fences, and we may not always win gold medals, but our athletes put in their hours at the gym & on the field, and they will be just as ready for battle whether on a local or global theater.

However, our role models are Ichiro, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, & Michelle Kwan, rather than Barry Bonds, Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, or Serena Williams. We’d love to bankroll Michael or Serena, but we know they’re probably going to YC and not 500. But maybe we’ll go to Canada and find Steve Nash, or go to Germany and find Dirk Novitzki, or go to Japan and find Ichiro before YC does. (note: it’s not lost on me that ironically, Ichiro now plays for the Yankees… sigh).

Now, I know that baseball is a clearly American metaphor, but there is sometihng you can extract from McClure's comments. It is: that no true innovation happens when all you do is look for the black swan event, or the super hero. Why not be the maker of a very strong, global team? I was sitting around the dinner table last night with MIC managers from India, Tunisia, Belgium, Armenia, and Croatia. we were talking about how the real new information economy is really the one that helps people get things done. 

Ben Picquard, MIC Manager, MIC Mons, Belgium

Just having a brand, or just having the technology doesn't solve any one problem for very long, but MIC thinking is truly innovation thinking. Based on my conversations with them, I can say that the MIC managers truly are linking centers, putting the right people together with the right resources to stimulate the local economy around them. That's a simple plan of coaching, communication and cooperation. MICs are local, embedded centers, literally born out of innovation, that create this communication and conversation. They link up people to technology that works, models that scale, and education that improves their standing in life and in the economy. 

MICs are kind of the Dave McClure's of Microsoft, and the software industry. Since everything is stored in the cloud, they can link people to each other to get information passed to vital people, and they can teach everyone from the schoolchildren in Uganda, to the entrepreneurs in Barcelona and Madrid how to innovate and iterate. 

And whose to say the schoolchildren in Botswana or Uganda are not entrepreneurs? 

Comments (8)

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    a fancy thing that is being unnaturally popularized. Plus it does not even have successful results from what I saw with my own eyes.

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